By Riddhi Arsheyi Gautam, 24 June 2022
“Dear old Dartmouth, give a rouse for the college on the hill.” Oh, what a joy it was to visit you on a lovely summer day in June 2022 in Hanover, New Hampshire. The occasion happened to be the 50th reunion of my grandfather Kul Gautam’s class of 1972.
At the opening reception and dinner of the Class of 1972, my family— grandma Binata, aunt Jyotsna, brother Hrig— and I were delighted to meet several of my grandfather’s classmates. Two of them were Alan Lovell of Yarmouth, Maine, and Rick Cowan of Gloucester, Massachusetts. My grandfather had spent holidays at their homes with their families. He still talks about how hospitable their families were towards him and the activities they used to do. Alan Lovell was also my grandfather’s dorm-mate. We went to visit their old dormitory in Richardson Hall.
We also met with several classmates of my grandfather’s who had gone to study
French in Bourges, France, with him in 1969. They recounted stories of their time together in France, much of which my grandfather had forgotten. These rekindled his memory and brought feelings of nostalgia.
The next day, we gathered in the cavernous Alumni Gym, and were greeted by the Dartmouth class of 1972 alumni. We were reminded of life at Dartmouth 50 years ago. My brother Hrig (age 10) and I (age 13) were the youngest attendees in the sea of septuagenarians.
Hearing the Glee Club of ‘72 perform the alma mater was incredible. Even after 50 years, their melodious voices still remained, and they put on a beautiful and harmonic performance.
I was astonished to learn that the class of ‘72 had raised half a million dollars to provide an endowment for the Class of 1972’s Speaker’s Series for the Irving Institute. In addition, the class of 1972 had also raised another half a million dollars for the Dartmouth College Fund. Their loyalty and generosity to the college thrilled me.
President Phil Hanlon sang the praises of the Class, and reminisced what an exciting period it had been when they were on campus.
He also took the occasion to announce that one of their classmates, my grandfather Kul Gautam, was going to be awarded an honorary degree of “Doctor of Humane Letters.” I was touched by the thunderous applause and the outpouring of congratulations conveyed to my grandfather by his classmates.
That evening President Hanlon hosted a warm reception and dinner for the honorary award recipients. We were happy to have one of my grandfather’s favorite professors, Donald McNemar, and his wife Britta, joining us both at the dinner as well as at the Commencement the next day, along with my grandfather’s close friend from UNICEF, Jim Mohan.
Making our way to the campus of Dartmouth in Hanover, we were
welcomed by the iconic two-hundred-foot Baker Tower hovering over us.
Baker Tower remains as exquisite as it was said to have been when my
grandfather went there. But what had progressed was that there was a whole new wing called the Berry Library Annex of the Baker-Berry library. The Berry Library is a large modernized section with digital advances all over, such as a computer catalog that was not there in the 70s. The catalog back then was kept in drawerfuls of 3 x 5 index cards.
We saw some of the impressive sports facilities in the Dartmouth campus as well, including the ice hockey arena, tennis courts, and football field. They were all very well maintained and a pleasant place to play the sport.
One of the most incredible things we saw was the West End of the campus where the Arthur L. Irving Institute for Energy & Society as well as the Engineering and Computer Science Center were located. They are among the most environmentally-friendly buildings in New Hampshire. Some of their outstanding features are the abundant natural skylights and a perfect temperature-controlled lineament. They had an aesthetic and innovative design inside which was a pleasant place to hang around and study.
Dartmouth has progressed quite a lot from the late 60s. Co-education was only introduced to the college in 1972 when only a very small percentage of the student population was women. Now, five decades later, fifty percent of Dartmouth students are females.
Dartmouth has also become much more diverse since then. Five decades ago, there were very few international students and students of color. At present, Dartmouth has a diverse selection of students of different races, countries, etc. Five decades ago, my grandfather was the first and only Nepali student at Dartmouth. And now there are more than a dozen Nepali students whom we got to meet at a reception graciously hosted by Professor Sienna Craig, a scholar and an expert on Nepal and the Himalayan region.
Commencement day on 12 June 2022 was a day to remember, and a day I’ll never forget. Thousands gathered on the Dartmouth green for the graduation, and we awaited the initiation of the ceremony.
Moments later, an incredible procession was brought to lead the Commencement. Students, trustees, and the honorees began their march, guided by a musical band. From the end of the field, the newly-minted graduates made it to their seats, while the trustees and honorees took the stage.
To start the event, two Native American students addressed the Commencement, representing the College’s recommitment to Native American students which began while my grandfather was at Dartmouth fifty years ago.
The first recipients of their degrees were the medical, business, and engineering school graduates. The moment was cherished and the sounds of applause and cheers overtook the college campus.
Shortly after, the valedictorians of the college were announced, and, among the thirteen, one of them gave a wondrous speech about her experience at Dartmouth College.
I was amazed that the majority of the valedictorians were of Asian origin, representing what a global university Dartmouth had progressed to become over the years.
Following that, eight distinguished recipients were awarded their honorary degrees, among them my grandfather Kul Gautam. President Phil Hanlon gave a brief introduction of each honoree before they were awarded their degree. Their accomplishments along with their contributions were acknowledged as they received their degrees. When my grandfather got his degree, the whole class of 1972 applauded thunderously.
The NFL star and philanthropist Russell Wilson was among the last announced honorees. He addressed the graduates of Dartmouth with words of inspiration, courage, and hope, uplifting the crowd with his heartfelt speech. The Class of 2022 received their diplomas and degrees one by one with expressions of great joy.
As each of their names were announced, a thunderous applause spread like wildfire amongst the crowd. From the families and friends to the faculty and professors of Dartmouth, they took pride in the accomplishments of the Class of 2022.
My visit to Dartmouth was an adventure of a lifetime. It has left an unforgettable impression on me as it did five decades ago on my grandfather.